Why the arts


“The new world is a truly global economy, driven by information, ideas and discoveries. It is a creative economy, where art and culture are the building blocks of innovation, invention and understanding.”

Speech from the Throne, Province of British Columbia, February 2006

Exploring the Power of the Arts

The arts and learning

Research has conclusively demonstrated the connection between arts exposure and academic performance and without exception concludes that learning is strengthened through participation in the arts.

Learning through the Arts, a three year national research study conducted by Queen’s University concluded that involvement in the arts contributed to student achievement as much as 11 percentile points higher in math than their peers. Ninety per cent of parents reported that the arts motivated their children to learn. Teachers, parents, artists, and administrators talked about how the arts motivated children, referring to the emotional, physical, cognitive, and social benefits of learning in and through the arts.

Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement, a comprehensive study of evidence-based research on what we have learned about the arts and student achievement was recently conducted by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the Arts Education Partnership. The report concluded that:

  • learning experiences in the arts contribute to the development of academic skills in reading, language development, and mathematics.
  • participation in the arts contributes to our thinking skills including our reasoning ability, intuition, perception, imagination, inventiveness, creativity, problem-solving skills, and expression.
  • arts activities promote growth in positive social skills, including self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy, and social tolerance, and contribute to developing social competencies among educationally or economically disadvantaged youth at risk.
  • the arts nurture a motivation to learn, particularly with those at risk and students with special needs, improving competencies in active engagement, disciplined and sustained attention, persistence, and risk taking, and contribute to creating a positive learning environment that fosters community engagement, increased student attendance, more effective instructional practice, and school identity.

Despite convincing research and strong public support, the arts remain on the margins of education.

The arts and health and well-being

Research has provided strong evidence that the arts improve the health and well-being of both individuals and communities, and promote individual and community healing following traumatic experiences.

Those who attend and participate in arts and cultural events are more likely to be physically active and engaged in their communities. A Statistics Canada Study found that 51% of performing arts attendees participated in at least one sporting activity, compared to 32% of non-attendees.

Research by the Canada West Foundation indicates that cultural activity contributes to the health and well being of citizens, improved community identity and social cohesion, community revitalization and the redevelopment of inner cities.

In a Roundtable on Music and Medicine hosted by the National Arts Centre, Louise T. Blouin MacBain, the chair of the Louise T. Blouin Foundation, whose mandate is to promote creativity and support research, said that music can help stroke victims to walk, terminal patients to relax, mothers to give birth, troubled teens to learn social skills, students to study, Alzheimer’s patients to remember, and unborn children to respond to the environment around them.

The arts are most effective where the largest costs on the health care and social systems occur – for seniors, the disabled, and youth at risk. Older citizens experience strong positive impacts on their outlook on life, cognitive functioning, physical comfort, quality of life, and general health from involvement with the arts.

Research from the California Arts Council shows the value of the arts to the fields of health and social services, demonstrated by how the arts contribute to brain development, healing, prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, rehabilitating prisoners, and saving youth-at-risk.

The arts and society

Creative initiatives are needed to deal with social issues and economic disparity. Participation in arts activities has been proven to reduce youth violence, help prevent drug addiction, support rehabilitation, be a critical element in mental health treatment, and reduce reliance on social programs.

In From Bronze to Gold: A Blueprint for Canadian Leadership in a Transforming World, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives concluded that artistic and cultural creativity plays an important role in transforming communities into destinations of choice for skilled people in any occupation. A community’s cultural infrastructure has a direct impact on quality of life and on the competitiveness of communities in attracting people and investment

The Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce states that for young Indo-Canadians, celebration of their vibrant contribution to BC’s identity is vital to their sense of pride and confidence, and builds respect for the South Asian community among the public at large. This leads to a reduction of racial tensions and violence, promotes positive role models, showcases our culture and creates new opportunities for our youth.

From Restless Communities to Resilient Places: Building A Stronger Future For All Canadians, the June 2006 Final Report of the External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities concluded that those Canadian cities and communities that have recognized the importance of culture are better positioned to meet future challenges and opportunities. Strong cultural engagement can substantially improve the cohesiveness, confidence and international image and attractiveness of places.

The arts contribute to our understanding of our common interests and our appreciation of the value of our differences and contribute to creating a society that respects and appreciates one another, and to creating communities that work together to make our communities strong.

The arts are a positive way to build community engagement, especially for those who feel marginalized, isolated or alone. Participation in the arts enables people to feel they are a part of the community and provides a valuable connection to the rest of society.

The arts and the economy

The economic impact of the arts and our creative resources is far greater than the employment or economic multipliers our creative industries generate. The arts attract people to live and work in our Province, reduce turnover for employers, and contribute to the stability of our workforce. The arts also help create cross-cultural understanding that improves workplace and customer relationships and contributes to more successful enterprise.

When we think of famous travel destinations, we think about the vibrancy and significance of their arts, culture and heritage. Cultural tourists spend more per day, stay longer at a destination and use more commercial accommodation. Cultural Tourism is growing globally at an annual rate of 15%.

The creative economy is leading the growth of all economic sectors in British Columbia. Between 1991 and 2001, people employed in the arts grew by 57% in Vancouver, more than five times the 10% overall growth of the labour force.

Communities in British Columbia, including Kelowna, Nelson and Langley, have developed strategic plans that use the creative arts to drive their economies and the social health of their communities. Chemainus with its world-famous murals and theatre has successfully replaced a resource-based economy with an arts-based economy.

Increased arts and cultural activity is key to attracting gifted professionals. Alcan says that cultural life and amenities in towns like Kitimat, where the company is planning a $1.8 billion upgrade of its smelting operations, are crucial factors in attracting talented people, jobs and investment.

Our creative industries need creative people. Creative people are attracted by opportunities to engage in and experience the arts and the creative expression of others.

The arts and cultural development

We are passing from the information age to the creative age. The world is wrestling with environmental and human sustainability issues and there is a great need for creative problem solving. The arts carry important messages, often leading to social change and new ways to address human issues. The arts stimulate creative and divergent thinking and discussion, provide a forum for communication, and build communities around common concerns.

Our cultural development contributes to our community development, social development, and sustainable economic development. The health of our society largely depends upon our ability to improve our intercultural relationships, to learn how to connect, communicate, and understand one another, and to create new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Presentation to the British Columbia Government
September 2007